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Harvard’s Graduate School of Design shortlists four architects for 2022 Wheelwright Prize

2022 Wheelwright Prize Shortlist

Harvard GSD’s 2022 Wheelwright Prize finalists, L to R: Marina Otero, Curry J. Hackett, Summer Islam, and Feifei Zhou

Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (Harvard GSD) has announced four shortlisted architects for the 2022 Wheelwright Prize. Now in its 10th cycle, the Wheelwright Prize supports innovative design research, crossing both cultural and architectural boundaries, with a $100,000 grant intended to support two years of study. Previous winners have presented diverse research proposals, including studies of kitchen typologies around the world; the architecture and culture of greenhouses; the potential of seaweed, shellfish, and the intertidal zone to advance architectural knowledge and material futures; and how spaces have been transformed through the material contributions of the African Diaspora.

The 2022 Wheelwright Prize drew a wide international pool of applicants. A first-phase jury deliberation was conducted in April; a winner will be announced in June.

Jurors for the 2022 prize include: Will Hunter, 2022 Harvard GSD Loeb Fellow and founder and chief executive of London School of Architecture; Adrian Lahoud, dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art; Mark Lee, chair of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard GSD; Irene Sunwoo, John H. Bryan Chair and Curator, Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago; Shirley Surya, curator of design and architecture at M+; and Sarah M. Whiting, dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture at the Harvard GSD.

The four finalists for the 2022 Wheelwright Prize, and their proposals, are:

Curry J. Hackett: “Drylongso: Sociospatial Tropes of the African Diaspora”

Curry J. Hackett is a lecturer and adjunct assistant professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and core organizer of the anti-racist design justice school, Dark Matter University. His practice, Wayside Studio, primarily based in Washington, DC, collaborates with communities and organizations to engage in matters pertaining to culture, infrastructure, ecology, and the public realm. Hackett earned a BArch from Howard University in 2013. Noteworthy work includes Howard Theatre Walk of Fame, Swept Yard, King Park, the DC High Water Mark system, and DC Clean Rivers Project.

Through his research, Hackett explores the relationships between Blackness and land, particularly in the culturally hybridized region of the American Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Borrowing the Black term “Drylongso,” meaning “ordinary” or “same old,” Hackett calls for the architecture discipline to advance a more ethnographic mode of practice which celebrates informality and honors institutional memory. Hackett’s “Drylongso: Sociospatial Tropes of the African Diaspora” proposal involves a critical study of diasporically linked regions, including South Carolina, Trinidad and Tobago, and Senegal, to shed light on transatlantic vernacular. With his 2021 solo exhibition, Drylongso: An Ode to the Southern Black Landscape, displayed at the Twelve gallery located at Union Street Market in Washington, DC, Curry brought forth a personal testament of family, identity, and place, and documents his family’s experience growing up on generational farmland in Prospect, Virginia.

Hackett’s Wheelwright Prize proposal stems from his solo exhibition and would provide future resources to investigate other Black sociospatial tropes that continue to be excluded by the traditional canons in the disciplines of architecture and landscape design. Hackett proposes travel to diasporically related regions in Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean, and West Africa that would yield a multimedia representation of customary relationships with these lands, including a suite of drawings, installations, publications, archival oral histories, and a short film.

Summer Islam: “Groundwork”

Summer Islam is an ARB registered architect, researcher, and activist who works at the intersection of architectural design, engineering, systems thinking, digital technologies, and material science. She is a founding director of Material Cultures, a nonprofit organization that brings together design, research, and action toward a post-carbon built environment. She has taught at University of the Arts London, University College London, London Metropolitan University, the Architectural Association, and the University of Cambridge. Islam earned her BArch from the Middle East Technical University, Ankara (2008), and RIBA part 1 (2011) and RIBA part 2 (2014) from the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London.

With “Groundwork,” Islam explores how different industrial, social, cultural, and economic pressures interrelate with the land, while examining the potential new role of the architect in reconciling these demands, specifically in the complex interdependencies that exist in Britain. Given the immediate challenges of climate change, the global housing crisis, and the toxic and destructive results of fossil-fueled industries and raw material extraction, Islam aims to unite and educate stakeholders in efforts to persuade a new generation of architects, developers, planners, and citizens to reconsider how new methods of construction material are designed and produced.

The proposal assigns resources for research, publications, consultancy, and advocacy—all in efforts to recalibrate a new model of regenerative land management across the UK and advise on the most ecologically advanced and sustainable practices for design policy, the construction industry, and agriculture. Work site visits to innovative agroforestry and agriculture practices are a critical part of her proposal, including locations in Britain, Spain, France, and Italy. The “Groundwork” proposal also allocates funds for mapping ecosystems and morphologies, public programming, and a list of sustainable materials to be shared widely as a research depository.

Marina Otero: “Future Storage: Architectures to Host the Metaverse”

Marina Otero is head of the social design masters at Design Academy Eindhoven. The program focuses on roles for designers attuned to contemporary ecological and social challenges. From 2015 to 2022, she was the director of research at Het Nieuwe Instituut (HNI), the Dutch Institute for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture. At HNI, she led initiatives focused on labor, extraction, and mental health from an architectural and post-anthropocentric perspective, including “Automated Landscapes,” “BURN-OUT: Exhaustion on a Planetary Scale,” and “Lithium.” Otero received an MS in critical, curatorial and conceptual practices in architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in 2013 and completed her PhD at Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid in 2016. She is a co-editor of Unmanned: Architecture and Security Series (2016), After Belonging: The Objects, Spaces, and Territories of the Ways We Stay In Transit (2016), Architecture of Appropriation (2019), and More-than-Human (2020); and editor of Work, Body, Leisure (2018).

With “Future Storage: Architectures to Host the Metaverse,” Otero examines new architecture paradigms for storing data and how reimagining digital infrastructures could meet the unprecedented demands facing the world today−questioning the functionality, efficiency, and sustainability of the colossal data storage centers and facilities managed across the globe. This research explores innovations in data storing architectures attuned to social and ecological challenges, land availability, the growing cost of energy, and changing data. The research proposal analyzes historical and contemporary cases and engages with experts, local communities, and ecosystems. Otero has already conducted fieldwork in France, the Netherlands, and the UK. The Wheelwright Prize would expand research visits to include Singapore, Australia, Nigeria, California, Iceland, Sweden, and Chile. The fieldwork, data collection, and prototype development, among additional research, will all result in the first manual for global data center architecture design containing examples of ecological, circular, and egalitarian data storage models. This manual will ultimately inform an open-source design course syllabus and a series of public programs bringing designers and service providers together.

Feifei Zhou: “Between Land and Water: Architecture of Porosity”

Feifei Zhou is a Chinese-born artist and architect who works between China and London. She holds a BArch from the University of Sheffield, UK (2014) and an MArch from Royal College of Art in London (2018). Her work explores spatial, cultural, and ecological impacts of the industrialized built environment. She co-edited the digital publication Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene (2020). Zhou is currently an associate lecturer at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

With “Between Land and Water,” Zhou investigates the future of coastal architecture, specifically architecture that allows porosity at the land-water interface, and its potential in combating coastal natural disasters and participating in human and nonhuman livelihoods. Zhou’s research brings her to Southeast Asia’s coastlines where rapid urbanization is only compounded by the social and ecological tensions in the region. This proposal also takes a critical look at social and ecological tensions of the simultaneous decline of Southeast Asia’s small-scale farming and the vernacular stilt houses, as well as the growing dependence on large-scale infrastructures. “Between Land and Water” aims to combine academic research with local-based practice and explore the potential of architecture as the contemporary answer of coastal environmental challenges through allowing more-than-human cohabitation.

For the Wheelwright Prize, Zhou plans to create and produce visual essays that will be exhibited together as a series, accompanied by other produced work such as photographs, publications, and material studies. Zhou proposes that each visual essay represents site-specific social and environmental complexities facing Southeast Asia, but that together they will offer a matrix of connections and comparisons of interregional coastal built environments.